Nerve blocks are medical procedures in which the signals from certain nerves are blocked with medications so that patients cannot experience pain. There are a number of applications for nerve blocks, and they can be a valuable asset in an anesthesiologist's toolkit. These blocks can be used for anesthesia, pain management, and diagnostic purposes, among others, and new methods and medications are constantly being developed to make them more effective.
One of the classic uses of a nerve block is in the production of regional anesthesia so that a painful medical procedure can be performed without hurting the patient. In this case, the doctor injects a numbing agent into the nerve or the area so that the patient will not experience any sensations while the wound is treated.
Nerve blocks can also be used in the management of chronic pain. People who experience severe pain can benefit greatly from a temporary or permanent nerve block which stops the pain. In these cases, the nerve block can be a very good alternative to using narcotics, which can become addictive or problematic for the patient. Nerve blocks allow patients to lead more normal lifestyles, and they can be more effective in pain management for certain types of conditions.
These procedures can also be used diagnostically, to learn more about the source of a painful sensation or a specific medication, and prognostically, to see if permanent procedures will be effective. For example, a patient considering a pain pump may have a nerve block placed in his or her spine to see if delivering medication to the area would sufficiently dull the pain.
The types of nerve blocks are named by the parts of the body where they are used, from the head to the toes. The risks of a nerve block can vary, depending on the placement and the situation, but they can include infection, allergic reactions, low blood pressure, clotting disorders, nerve damage, and punctured lungs, along with accidental delivery of a medication to an inappropriate area of the body.
Typically, an anesthesiologist or pain management specialist consults with a patient before placing a nerve block, and he or she also performs the actual procedure. Once the nerve block is in place, basic tests will be used to confirm that it is working, and to give the patient an opportunity to give feedback on the experience. The procedure is usually performed in a hospital in case there are complications which could compromise the patient's health.